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E01683: An imperial decree of 30 July 381, issued in Latin and recorded in the Theodosian Code, prohibits the burial of dead bodies at the shrines of apostles and martyrs inside the walls of Constantinople. Promulgated in Latin at Heraclea (of Thrace?, eastern Balkans) and addressed to the Urban Prefect of Constantinople.

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posted on 2016-06-30, 00:00 authored by erizos
Theodosian Code 9.17.6

Imppp. Gratianus, Valentinianus et Theodosius aaa. Pancratio praefecto Urbi. Omnia quae supra terram urnis clausa vel sarcofagis corpora detinentur, extra urbem delata ponantur, ut et humanitatis instar exhibeant et relinquant incolarum domicilio sanctitatem. Quisquis autem huius praecepti neglegens fuerit adque aliquid tale ab huius interminatione praecepti ausus fuerit moliri, tertia in futurum patrimonii parte multetur. Officium quoque, quod tibi paret, quinquaginta librarum auri affectum despoliatione maerebit. Ac ne alicuius fallax et arguta sollertia ab huius se praecepti intentione subducat atque apostolorum vel martyrum sedem humandis corporibus aestimet esse concessam, ab his quoque, ita ut a reliquo civitatis, noverint se atque intellegant esse submotos. Dat. III kal. aug. Heracleae Eucherio et Syagrio conss. (381 iul. 30).

‘The emperors Gratian, Valentinian, and Theodosius, Augusti, to the Urban Prefect [of Constantinople] Pancratius.

All the corpses which are contained in urns or sarcophagi above ground must be taken and placed outside the city, in order that they may present an example of the human condition, and leave purity to the households of the inhabitants. Yet anyone who is neglectful of this ruling, or should dare attempt such a thing after the threat of this ruling, in the future, will be deprived of one third of their patrimony. Moreover, the staff subject to you will regret to suffer the forfeiture of fifty pounds of gold. And let no one, in their false and cunning shrewdness, exempt themselves from the purpose of this ruling and suppose that a shrine (sedes) of apostles or martyrs is authorised for the burial of bodies: let them know and understand that they will be removed also from there, as from the rest of the city.

Given on the third day before the kalends of August at Heraclea, during the consulships of Eucherius and Syagrius [= 30 July 381]’

Text: Mommsen, Meyer, Krueger 1904. Translation: Efthymios Rizos.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Anonymous martyrs : S00060 Apostles (unspecified) : S00084


  • Latin

Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Place of Evidence - Region

Constantinople and region Balkans including Greece

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Constantinople Perinthus-Heraclea

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Constantinople Constantinople Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoupolis Constantinopolis Constantinople Istanbul Perinthus-Heraclea Drizypera Δριζύπερα Drizypera Büyük Karıştıran

Cult activities - Places

Cult building - unspecified

Cult activities - Non Liturgical Practices and Customs

Burial ad sanctos

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives

Monarchs and their family Officials


The Codex Theodosianus (or Theodosian Code) is a compilation of laws promulgated by the Roman emperors from 312 onwards. The corpus was commissioned by the co-emperors Theodosius II and Valentinian III on 26 March 429, and the work was published on 15 February 438. It went into force in the eastern and western parts of the empire on 1 January 439.


Addressed to the Urban Prefect of Constantinople, this decree must be understood in the exceptional context of Constantinople’s development as an urban centre in the fourth century: in the first decades after its foundation, the city probably grew in a loose way, with extensive free spaces and large properties occupying its fortified territory. These houses probably looked more like villas than urban mansions, including open grounds with private shrines and sepulchral monuments. Due to the same reason of its exceptional urban development, Constantinople included a number of martyr shrines inside its walls, such as those of *Akakios, *Agathonikos, and *Menas. It thus seems that many settlers of the new capital got the impression that burials intra muros were permitted. And, of course, it was the emperor Constantine himself who gave the first example, by building the shrine of the Holy Apostles and his personal mausoleum inside the city walls. Thus by 380, Constantinople probably had an unusual number of intramural funerary monuments on private properties and around intramural martyr shrines. This must have been disturbing for traditional Roman mores which still regarded tombs as ominous and impure. The decree discussed here dates from the early years of the reign of Theodosius I, and it attempts to rectify the situation, ordering that all funerary monuments standing above ground (i.e. sarcophagi and mausolea), be moved outside the city walls, including those set up at intramural shrines of martyrs and apostles. Interestingly, the heavy fines prescribed by the law threaten not only offenders, but also the staff of the Urban Prefecture, should they fail to enforce the ruling. The description of the shrines of apostles and martyrs as sedes in the text is almost unattested elsewhere. It may correspond to the Greek word bema (βῆμα), used in the epigrams of Gregory of Nazianzus, in order to describe oratories dedicated to martyrs as parts of funerary monuments. Did all these sanctuaries contain relics, and, if so, how did they acquire them? The answer probably comes from a decree promulgated five years later, in 386, which prohibits the partition and purchase of relics, in the context of the same set of laws concerning funerary practices in Constantinople (CTh.9.17.7; E01684).


Text Mommsen, Theodor, and Paul Martin Meyer, eds. Theodosiani Libri XVI cum Constitutionibus Sirmondianis et leges Novellae ad Theodosianum pertinentes. 3 vols. Berlin: Weidmann, 1905. Translations and commentaries Clyde Pharr, Theresa Sherrer Davidson, Mary Brown Pharr, C. Dickerman Williams, The Theodosian code and novels, and the Sirmondian constitutions, New York : Greenwood Press, 1952, 1969. Theodor, Mommsen, Paul Meyer, Paul Krueger, Jean Rouge, Roland Delmaire, Olivier Huck, François Richard, and Laurent Guichard. Les Lois Religieuses Des Empereurs Romains De Constantin a Théodose II (312-438) Ii: Code Théodosien I-Ix, Code Justinien, Constitutions Sirmondiennes. Sources Chrétiennes. Paris: CERF, 2009.

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